"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, September 12, 2011

For My Boys, Who Don't Remember

"Mama, tell me again about September 11th," whispered #1 during a moment of commemorative silence at church yesterday.  Conflicted by disturbing memories and sadness, all I could whisper back was, "Remember, it was when terrorists flew planes into the twin towers in NY and thousands of people were killed."

Such a simplistic answer to an overwhelmingly un-simplistic event.  Born in NY, he was only one on the sparkling blue autumn morning when his world changed.  He will never know anything other than long security lines at airports, exorbitant taxes on plane fares, meeting people who are terrified of flying and even more terrified of Muslims.  I was seven months pregnant with #2 and he definitely won't know anything other than a country at war for all but his first year of life.  

How do you describe the horror of that day to children just barely old enough to understand?  I can tell them that I was vacuuming and watching the Today Show when Matt and Katie announced a plane crash into the North Tower. I can tell them I was glued to the tv, like the rest of the nation, when the South Tower was hit.  I can tell them that their father was several states away at a conference and since we were planning a two hour drive to my grandparents to celebrate their anniversary I packed in a hurry and got 30 minutes down the road when the transmission went out of our decrepit mini van.  I can tell them that the sky was eerily silent, so unusual for living near an Air Force base, while I waited for a tow truck.  

I can't tell them, not yet, of watching, tearfully and mouth agape, as people plummeted to their deaths rather than be burned alive in the towers.  I can't describe to them what it was like to stand under the Twin Towers and gaze at their dizzying heights, as we did one Christmas when we lived in New York.  I also can't describe the fear gripping my heart as I sent dozens of emails to friends working in the City on 9/11, praying they would all be okay.  One friend had a job interview in the South Tower that morning but it had been cancelled at the last minute.  How do you describe the uncomfortable brew of joy in knowing your friends are safe and the grief for those who still weep?  How do you describe the impromptu prayer meetings where strangers held hands or the lines of people waiting patiently for hours to donate blood, donate food, donate time? How can I ever explain America's naive belief that we thought we were safe from that which had only been seen on television, in other countries?  How can I tell them, without passing on concerns, that while I'm not afraid to fly, I never get on a plane anymore without  remembering 9/11.

My sons will always remember because we will talk about it.  We will look at their baby books and read the newspaper articles.  They will see the smoke, the anguished looks, the rubble.  They will remember because they will see the Flag at Ground Zero.  We will visit memorials, as we did yesterday evening.  Salem created a Field of Flags in its Riverfront Park.  It was a stunning numeric visual to see nearly 3,000 flags, one flag for one life.  Somber yet beautiful, it was, once again, a sparkling blue autumn day and, as our nation has moved forward since 9/11, seeking joy and healing, our military family was honored with free rides on the park carousel. 

The Bridge over the Willamette

The flags were created from the names of those who died on 9/11.


  1. This was the first year I told my kids about what happened. It was hard to do. And I didn't let them play with their Star Wars planes on Sunday. Might be silly, but I just couldn't handle watching toy planes pretending to shoot on that day. They understood once I explained. Great post, Denise. -Blythe

  2. Not silly at all Blythe! Again, it's another of those things that have changed. Shooting planes, even pretend, have a whole new meaning!

  3. My favorite Marine Corps bumper sticker: "Give War a Chance"